Luke 8: Jesus, the sane outcast and the demon possessed village

“The hospital, I came to discover, was its own little universe, virtually complete unto itself.  It had its own carpentry shop and electricians, plumbers, and painters, its own bus and bus driver.  It had a snooker room, a badminton court and swimming pool, a little shop selling toiletries and sweets, a chapel, a cricket pitch and social club, a podiatrist and hairdresser, kitchens, a sewing room, and a laundry.  Once a week it showed movies in a kind of ballroom.  It even had its own mortuary.  The patients did all the gardening that didn’t involve sharp tools and kept the grounds immaculate.  It was a bit like a country club for crazy people.  I liked it very much.”

So, in Notes From a Small Island, the American Bill Bryson describes his experiences in the mid-1970s, working at the Holloway Sanitorium psychiatric hospital in Virginia Water. It was here that he met and soon married his English wife, Cynthia, a hospital nurse.

“Most of the patients on Tuke Ward were like that when you got to know them -- superficially lucid but, underneath, crazy as an overheated dog.  It is an interesting experience to become acquainted with a country through the eyes of the insane, and, if I may say so, a particularly useful grounding for life in Britain.”  Bill Bryson goes on to praise the residents of Virginia Water, in glowing terms. “But what lent Virginia Water a particular charm back then, and I mean this quite seriously, was that it was full of wandering lunatics.  Because most of the patients had been resident at the sanitorium for years and often decades, no matter how addled their thoughts or hesitant their gait, or demonstrated any of a hundred other indications of someone comfortably out to lunch, most of them could be trusted to wander down to the village and find their way back again.  Each day you could count on finding a refreshing sprinkling … buying fags (cigarettes) or sweets, having a cup of tea, or just quietly remonstrating with thin air.  The result was one of the most extraordinary communities in England, one in which wealthy people and lunatics mingled on equal terms.  The shopkeepers and locals were quite wonderful about it, and didn’t act as if anything was odd….  It was, and I’m still serious, a thoroughly heartwarming sight.”

This is how Bill Bryson, introduced to an unsuspecting world, the otherwise sleepy village of Virginia Water. A couple of years later, having similarly quoted from Bryson, and preaching on the passage before us today - this is how the Bishop of Guildford introduced the new vicar of Virginia Water to an unsuspecting congregation. “You will probably think he is quite mad… but then he will be in good company…” Only those who had come from the new vicar’s previous church seemed to appreciate the joke. At least at the time. After ten years I think I am beginning to understand why John Gladwin preached from this passage at my induction. You don’t have to be insane to be a vicar in Virginia Water but it helps. In our gospel reading today we are introduced to a spectrum of spiritual conditions that have psychological and social consequences, constructive and destructive.

And I hope we will recognise that we have more in common with the demoniac than with his rather more insane neighbours.  Let’s first of all consider Jesus, then the crowd, then the man.

1. The Delivering Power of Jesus Christ (Luke 8:26-33)


Luke is selective in choosing which events to record from Jesus life.  He shows Jesus came primarily to proclaim the Good News of God’s love. To call people to repent of their sin and turn back to God, to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. To deliver them from the powers of darkness and lead them into the light and comfort of a living, loving relationship with God as our Father. We've seen already how Jesus demonstrated His authority in Luke 7, healing the Centurion’s servant and raising the widow’s son. Last week we saw how Jesus demonstrated his sovereignty even over the forces of nature, the wind and the waves.  On the east side of the Lake, they landed in the region of the Gerasenes, and once again Jesus demonstrates his power over the unseen but real forces of wickedness. 

1.1             Jesus Ability to Understand a Person Completely

For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man.” (Luke 8:29).


As they got out of the boat this man approached them, and straight away Jesus took the initiative.  The first words were from Jesus. "Come out of this man, you evil spirit". (Mark 5:8)  This was no enquiry, no debate, just one command spoken with compassion and supreme authority.  Jesus knew what the problem was, as He always does.  He wasted no time, there is no panic. Jesus understands you completely too. He’s not phased by your past, he’s not embarrassed by your secret sins, he’s not intimidated by what possesses you, he identifies with your fears, he knows what keeps you awake at night. He’s been there. He was tempted, the Bible says, in every way, yet without sin. That’s why there’s hope for you and I too. Jesus ability to understand a person completely.  

1.2             Jesus Authority to Deliver a Person Irrevocably

“Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.” (Luke 8:30-31)


The Demons Recognised Jesus  (Luke 8:28)

These demons whose mission in life was to blind people to spiritual realities, knew full well who Jesus was.  They gave Jesus His full title, "Jesus, Son of the Most High God."


The Demons Knelt before Jesus (Luke 8:28)  

They fell at his feet. They could do none else before the Lord of Lords, but kneel in submission and worship. Here we have satanic beings, destined to be damned for eternity, forced to kneel before the Son of God.


The Demons Pleaded with Jesus (Luke 8:31)  

They pleaded for mercy knowing Jesus could have wiped them out in an instant.  Not once but repeatedly.


The Demons Obeyed Jesus  (Luke 8:33) 

Jesus gave them permission to enter the herd of pigs. We may not understand how or why, but we must marvel at His full and complete authority over these terrifying demons.  They recognised Jesus, knelt before Jesus, pleaded for mercy from Jesus and obeyed Jesus’ every word.


Before we move on, let us briefly observe

The Characteristics of Demonic Possession

1. Torture (8:28)
.  As we have already seen, this man had suffered a great deal.  The demons had tortured him with isolation, sleepless nights, and physical abuse, so when Jesus appeared the man cried out, "Have you come to torture me?" He knew of no other experience.

2. Control (8:30)
This man was a puppet of the demons.
They call themselves Legion.  Roman Legions were a well known sight in the area. A Roman Legion was made up of 6,000 soldiers. Now we don't know how many demons possessed the man, but they were willing to admit to being many. He was their mouthpiece. The conversation with Jesus shows he had lost a sense of his own personal identity. His speech is confused. Torture and control.

3. Destruction (8:33)
We have already seen the demon inspired self destructive behaviour in this man, now we see what happens when Jesus cast them out from the man.  Like lemmings, in wild confusion, Mark says 2,000 pigs went flying into the Sea of Galilee and were drowned.

Every word in the story depicts this man's pathetic, helpless condition.  One of the most pitiful sights must be such a person whose mind is so torn that he worships while cursing, confesses while blaspheming. Here is a picture of Satan’s ultimate motive - to torment and destroy the last vestige of the image of God in a human being. In the Gospels, demonic possession was a common occurrence. While I do not want to minimise the reality of that today, it is a fact that our world is radically different precisely because of Jesus Christ and His victory on the Cross.  Our theology must be based on the Bible teaches and not on Ghost Busters or Poltergeist or the X Files. The NT is clear.

“When you were dead in your sins... God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
(Colossians 2:13-15)


The forces of evil in our world are defeated and disarmed.  One day they will be destroyed.  Even in our story the demons knew this when they ask “Have you come to torment us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29). 

Defeated but not destroyed, Satan’s still destroys lives but his principle work today is not possession but perversion - sowing seeds of division, doubt, despair and deception, with greed, guilt or gloating.  He entices with destructive obsessions and addictions whether to drugs, alcohol, sex, - we all know these - but what about greed, work, fitness, affluence, these can just as easily become all consuming and destroy not only us but those we love.

The effect is always the same. In John 10, Jesus warned Satan is a thief, he comes to steal and destroy. He wants to steal your peace of mind, your self esteem, your sanity, and if unchecked even your family.  With Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, with Jesus indwelling us, empowering us, equipping us, these demonic obsessions, for that is what they are, should hold no more terror to us than a wild lion in a cage.  Only a fool would enter his cage.  In thirty years of Christian ministry I have yet to meet anyone who I needed to refer to an exorcist.

Gabriele Amorth, president of the International Association of Exorcists was quoted in the Times newspaper recently. He has examined 40,000 alleged cases of demonic possession and found only 130. Monsignor Balducci, the Vatican’s chief exorcist has similarly found that only five or six in every 1000 people who sought help, needed exorcism. The rest needed psychiatric or pastoral help.

Although I have yet to meet someone in need of an exorcist, I have met many people this week, tempted by obsessions in need of the cleansing, forgiving, empowering, deliverance work of Jesus Christ.

That is why in the next few weeks during Lent, we will look again at what it means to be a member of Christ’s Church. In this I commend the little leaflet in your copy of the Christ Church News. A Short Guide to the Duties of Church Membership is remarkably similar to our own membership scheme, yet it was first published in 1954 by the two Archbishop’s of Canterbury and York, and commended to parishes to use to help one another persevere together as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.  I encourage you to keep it in your Bible and use it as a reminder of what it means to be a member of Christ’s Church. Either reading the Bible, daily prayer, weekly fellowship, active service and witness will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from these spiritual disciplines and from growing in Christ.

Luke is here not only telling us much about the majesty and power of the Lord Jesus Christ over the power of evil. He is implicitly warning by this tragic example not to become complacent with sin, tolerate evil, or dabble with the occult.  Occasionally when I put the rubbish out in a black bag, I don't tie it up tight enough, or press the lid down hard enough and the next morning the birds or the foxes have got at the bag, torn it open and scattered rubbish all over the path. This week I have encountered a few spiritual black bags like that. Bitterness, lust, resentfulness, self centredness, in myself, and in others.   If this is not evidence of demons at work, then these things are most certainly the food on which they devour. These are the fuel that will ignite their destructive power.  Let me remind you of some words from Ephesians 4:26 

"In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold."  (Ephesians 4:26)


We must not give him a foot in the door. Did you lock your house door before you left for Church this morning? You may have the key in your pocket but it is useless if you left the door unlocked. You may have a Bible in your hand right now but it is useless you feed on it daily and shape your life by it.  Please close any doors you’ve left unlocked this morning. Like this man, as we come face to face with Jesus again we must recognise who He really is, we must kneel before Him in repentance, we must obey His word, claim His promises, trust in His power and thank him for His cleansing and forgiveness.  Then we can stand firm against the devils schemes.

Take great comfort in Jesus’ ability to understand a person completely. In Jesus’ authority to deliver a person irrevocably.


1.3 Jesus Objective to Transform a Person Totally
“When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind.” (Luke 8:35).


The power of His spoken word.  The change in this man was total, irrevocable and, it seems, immediate.  When the pig farmers caught up with them, they found the man clothed and in his right mind.  Binding him with chains, hand and foot had been no answer.  Meeting Jesus Christ face to face is the only cure.  I Timothy 2:3-4 says,

"This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, Who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:3-4)


That is what motivated Jesus here.  When Jesus first got out of the boat, the man begged Jesus to leave him alone.  As they got back into the boat to leave, the man begged to follow Jesus.

That’s the effect Jesus has upon people.  Before coming to know Him the last thing people want to do is go to Church.  After coming to know Him, the last thing we want to do is stay away from His family.  Jesus has the power, the prerogative and the pleasure to save us.  Save us from what ever it is we need deliverance from, what ever it is that possesses us, what ever it is that consumes us.  If you feel your situation is hopeless, that things cannot be any different, then realise those thoughts for what they are Satan’s lies.  You can be clean, whole, forgiven, sane. Life can be fulfilling.

Jesus ability to understand a person completely.  

Jesus authority to deliver a person irrevocably.

Jesus objective to transform a person totally.

The delivering power of Jesus Christ.


2. The Depressing Paranoia of the Local Community

“When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left” (Luke 8:34-37)


You know the saddest people for me in this story, are the pig owners and the local villagers. I think their insanity was more culpable than that of the demoniac.
They experienced the raw power of evil which destroyed their pigs but it seems they were less keen on Jesus than the demons. They were probably quite religious, if superstitious people, went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, they liked their religion ordered, predictable, restrained. 

And when Jesus interfered with their life style, they wanted none of this enthusiasm, this supernatural life changing stuff.  The tragedy was this, before their very eyes stood the man who used to terrorise their community. Now he was seated, dressed, and sane, and they wanted none of it. They cared more about their pigs than this man. They were blind and short sighted, worrying more about financial loss than the One before them who created them. The one who had entrusted the pigs to them in the first place, and now took them back. The irony of it is this. The demons knew how to treat Jesus better than these people. The greatest insanity must surely be to ask Jesus to leave. But that is what they did, and that is what many people do today. They hear the good news. They see transformed and transforming lives around them.  

And yet they turn their backs on knowing God, on being forgiven, on finding their destiny, on living forever.  Instead they want nothing to do with Jesus. Surely, here is the greatest folly, the real insanity. We’ve seen the delivering power of Jesus Christ. The depressing paranoia of the local community. Lastly,

The Devoted Passion of the Child of God (Luke 8:38-39)

”The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:38-39)


Jesus had given this man a new reason for living.  "I want to come with you Jesus". "No,” said Jesus “I have something better for you. Go back to your family and former friends, and show them what God has done for you."  Only God can tame his wild nature and only the healing of home can bring him the peace he needs.  Then as now, most people come to faith in Jesus Christ through the testimony of a relative or friend.  We each have a story to tell of what God has done in us and for us. We each have a neighbourhood, where people know us.  As we allow Jesus to transform us completely he will utilise us fully. Then people will see the difference Jesus makes and what to experience his life changing power too. If people think you are insane for being a fully devoted follower of Jesus, remember this story of the sane and insane and take heart:

The delivering power of Jesus Christ.

The depressing paranoia of the local community.

The devoted passion of the child of God.

May God make us as fruitful in telling what He has done for us, as this unknown child of God proved to be.   Lets pray.